Checking in on Lenfest Plaza

I recently walked through Lenfest Plaza outside the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to see how people were using the space, and was pleased to see people hanging out on the low, curving wood benches, PAFA students commingling with tourists, and folks just passing through. At night, the plaza’s lighting is really attractive, showing off the Furness building particularly well, replacing yawning darkness with a bit of life.

As previously reported by JoAnn Greco on PlanPhilly, Lenfest Plaza was created by closing off part of Cherry Street running between two of PAFA’s buildings. The result is an inviting, small but comfortable public space that succeeds in feeling intimate, due to the narrow width of Cherry Street, without being claustrophobic.

The new plaza opened in October with much fanfare, marked by the official lighting of Claes Oldenburg’s Paint Torch.

To me, the Paint Torch the least compelling of Oldenburg’s four Philadelphia sculptures (the Clothespin at Centre Square, the Split Button at Penn, and the Three Way Plug at the Art Museum). It feels too Disney, oddly commercial, and lacking the everydayness that makes his other sculptures at least feel unusual because of their amplified scale. Turns out these kids find the Paint Torch a bit playful too:

Kids climbing on the paint globule in Lenfest Plaza at PAFA, ignoring their mother.
(Kids climbing on the paint globule in Lenfest Plaza at PAFA, ignoring their mother.)

It turns out that the paint “globule” (as it’s called in polite company) below the paintbrush has become a play structure. And it is becoming mighty scuffed up.

The paint globule is getting scuffed up.
(The paint globule is getting scuffed up.)

By contrast I think the Grumman Greenhouse, a temporary artwork by Jordan Griska, is growing on me. It’s a reconstructed vintage submarine bomber set toward the back of the plaza. Yes, it’s a little jarring but is not as violent or shocking as I’d imagined it would be. It feels less one-note than the Paint Torch, and I’m curious to see how this war machine turns into a plant habitat come spring.

Have you seen Jordan Griska’s installation? Checked out the Paint Torch? Visited Lenfest Plaza? What do you think?

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